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Undernews: April 3, 2012

Undernews: April 3, 2012

Since 1964, the news while there's still time to do something about it


ACLU attacks court decision on strip searches

The American Civil Liberties Union said a split Supreme Court ruling that people arrested for even minor offenses can be subjected to a strip search puts the privacy rights of millions of Americans at risk.

“Today’s decision jeopardizes the privacy rights of millions of people who are arrested each year and brought to jail, often for minor offenses,” said Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU. “Being forced to strip naked is a humiliating experience that no one should have to endure absent reasonable suspicion. Jail security is important, but it does not require routinely strip searching everyone who is arrested for any reason, including traffic violations, and who may be in jail for only a few hours. ”

“The practical impact of the decision remains to be seen,” Shapiro added. “Ten states prohibit strip searching minor offenders as a matter of state law, and those laws are unaffected by today’s opinion. In addition, the Court was careful to recognize that strip searches may still be unconstitutional under certain circumstances.”

“The best way to preserve the privacy of the millions of Americans who are arrested each year for minor offenses,” Shapiro said, “is not to put them in jail in the first place. Instead, we should be using cheaper and more effective alternatives."

From the insantorum

Think Progress - SANTORUM: "I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And that the California universities – I think it’s seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught."

In fact, of the 10 UC system schools, just one (San Francisco) doesn’t offer American history courses. But that’s because it doesn’t offer any humanities courses at all it’s a medical school.

World contraceptive use stalling

Police will use celltowers, not GPS, to spy on you

Wired - Prosecutors are shifting their focus to warrantless cell-tower locational tracking of suspects in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that law enforcement should acquire probable-cause warrants from judges to affix GPS devices to vehicles and monitor their every move, according to court records.

GOP AG fought Obamacare because he wants single payer

Think Progress - According to one Republican attorney general in the lawsuit against the health care individual mandate, the problem with Obamacare is that it’s not a government takeover of health care.

Think Progress spoke with Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Caldwell opposes Obamacare and the individual mandate, but for a different reason than most of his fellow litigants: it props up the private health insurance industry. “Insurance companies are the absolute worst people to handle this kind of business,” he declared. “I trust the government more than insurance companies.” Caldwell went on to endorse the idea of a single-payer health care system, saying it’d “be a whole lot better” than Obamacare:

A healthcare compromise

Sam Smith

As noted here before, Obama doesn’t understand compromise. To make a good compromise you have to have to know where you want to go. It’s the only way to judge whether your compromise makes sense.

As my Coast Guard navigation instructor told us: if you take a navigational fix and it puts you on one side of a rock and you take another and it puts you on the other side, don’t split the difference.

But this is what Obama and much of Washington spends their time doing, because they don’t have goals driven by purpose, wisdom and integrity. They only want to win the vote.

These politicians are greatly motivated by a media that is only interested in ideas backed by immediate power. A good idea without a patron is worthless.

Thus, instead of providing politicians with ideas and forcing them to think about new ones, the media draws the cord tighter around permissible thought.

Thus, now that Obamacare may be in deep trouble, few alternatives are visibly waiting to replace it.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. For example, for over a decade the Progressive Review has suggested that lowering the age of Medicare would be a good next step to remedy the fact that America is the only developed country of the West that doesn’t offer decent healthcare.

Not only does Medicare already assume about 20% of our health costs. Within Medicare some 5% of citizens use up nearly half of its costs. But as soon as you leave Medicare, however, the picture changes.

For example a 85 year old costs over six times as much as a 40 year old and nearly 12 times as much as a 20 year old. A 65 year old costs seven times as much as a 20 year old.

Thus lowering the age of Medicare reaches a broad new group that would be enthusiastic supporters of the plan, while doing so at a reasonable cost that actually takes some of the risk off private insurers.

This is not a radical idea. Unnoted by today’s media, Al Gore proposed a modified version when he ran for president, as we noted in 1999:

“Al Gore's health program actually has the seeds of a more progressive approach to national healthcare: Gore would permit those between 55-65 to buy into Medicare. Back when Bill & Hil were proposing their 2000-page healthcare monstrosity, the Progressive Review offered a two-digit health plan: simply lower the age of eligibility for Medicare. While Gore's plan doesn't go that far, it recognizes the value of chipping away at the health costs of those citizens with the greatest health problems.”

Orwellandia: British pollice plan to monitor online messages

Independent, UK - Police and intelligence officers are to be handed the power to monitor people's messages online in what has been described as an "attack on the privacy" of vast numbers of Britons.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, intends to introduce legislation in next month's Queen's Speech which would allow law-enforcement agencies to check on citizens using Facebook, Twitter, online gaming forums and the video-chat service Skype.

Regional police forces, MI5 and GCHQ, the Government's eavesdropping centre, would be given the right to know who speaks to whom "on demand" and in "real time".

..Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, described it as "an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance as in China and Iran. "This is an absolute attack on privacy online."

Trash talk

Daily Mail, UK - Liberal talk show host Keith Olbermann changed car services eight times in the year he was at Current TV, complaining his chauffeurs 'smelled' and even 'talked to him' in the car, according to reports. The left-leaning network founded by former presidential candidate Al Gore, fired Olbermann, it's biggest star and the host of its signature program, last week for breach of contract.

March temperatures stun meteorologists

USA Today - Meteorologists used the terms "staggering," "astonishing" and "incredible" to describe the heat across the eastern two-thirds of the nation that set thousands of temperature records for March in cities and towns from the Dakotas to Maine to Florida.

"It's almost like science fiction," weather historian Christopher Burt of the private forecasting company Weather Underground reported last month.

Several large cities including Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa and Washington had their warmest March since records started being kept.

A close look at the Texas drought


Andy Borowitz @ BorowitzReport Gingrich: "I'm staying in the race until the end. This isn't like a marriage or something."

Word: A quantum theory of Mitt Romney

David Javerbaum, NY Times - Before Mitt Romney, those seeking the presidency operated under the laws of so-called classical politics, laws still followed by traditional campaigners like Newt Gingrich. Under these Newtonian principles, a candidate’s position on an issue tends to stay at rest until an outside force the Tea Party, say, or a six-figure credit line at Tiffany compels him to alter his stance, at a speed commensurate with the size of the force (usually large) and in inverse proportion to the depth of his beliefs (invariably negligible). This alteration, framed as a positive by the candidate, then provokes an equal but opposite reaction among his rivals.

..But the Romney candidacy represents literally a quantum leap forward. It is governed by rules that are bizarre and appear to go against everyday experience and common sense.

..“Mitt Romney” who seems poised to be the Republican nominee is but one of countless Mitt Romneys, each occupying his own cosmos, each supporting a different platform, each being compared to a different beloved children’s toy but all of them equally real, all of them equally valid and all of them running for president at the same time, in their own alternative Romnealities, somewhere in the vast Romniverse.


Shop Talk: Trailing Trayvon Martin’s story

Sam Smith

I was slow to get on the Trayvon Martin case and I’m still not sure that I’m handling it right.

The first hint that I was behind the curve came during my weekly slot as a guest on Mark Thompson’s Make It Plain show on Sirus/XM, several days after ABC had run revelations of police misconduct in the case. As usual, I had tabbed on my computer the stories I thought might get mentioned on the show so I could quickly find quotes and facts. There was no tab for Trayvon Martin.

Yet nearly an hour was taken up with listener calls on a story to which I had paid so little attention. About all I said of interest was that I thought the federal government should enter the case, which it did the next morning.

In the days that followed I tried to make up for lost time. But as I did, I found the story different from the one the media and others were telling. The story was exploding in importance - heavily weighted towards the purported racist tendencies of George Zimmerman and the role of the stand your ground gun law.

But, I wondered, let’s say Zimmerman was a racist killer. How did that make him national evil news object? Why was this case so much more newsworthy than all the other such assaults that happen in America?

As for the gun law, if anyone had a claim to stand his ground, it was Trayvon Martin but the story wasn’t being told that way.

As I looked into the matter, a couple of things stood out: the way the police had mishandled the case and the way that Zimmerman’s purported bigotry paled in comparison with growing evidence of some sort of broader psychological problem. Zimmerman had, after all, found dangerous people in many places (46 of whom he had reported to the police) , he had been involved involved in a number of assaults, and on two such confrontations later described himself as the victim. Yes, Zimmerman had confronted a black man, but he had also confronted two women and a police officer. An interesting story, to be sure, but perhaps not one full of the deeper and national meaning being ascribed to it.

One could explain the phenomenon in several ways. An example in support of various agenda including fighting racism and restricting guns? A covert reference to black-latino conflict? A nation yearning to have faces for its anger on various issues? A nation yearning to express an anger it can’t even explain?

Maybe as a country we had become a little like the George Zimmerman someone had described:

“Usually he was just a cool guy,” he said. “But it was like Jekyll and Hyde. When the dude snapped, he snapped.”

For myself, I felt like I was missing something. Maybe it was because, as Marion Barry once said, “Sam’s a cynical cat.” For me it was an all too familiar story. I could still recall, as a Washington radio reporter, checking with the DC police dispatchers in the 1950s to find out what had happened overnight and being told on a number of occasions something like, “Not much except for a few nigger stabbings.” Or the fact that DC white cops wouldn’t drive with black officers into the 1960s. Or that in one recent year, New York City cops made over a half million stop and frisks and that 87% of them involved blacks or latinos. Or that the white police chief of Washington had blockaded a whole black neighborhood at night, requiring those entering to prove their purpose as though they lived in South Africa under apartheid or in Gaza.

Or that some of us had, over and over again, reported police incompetence, abuse, or misconduct, despite knowing that the chances anyone would do anything, or even say much, about it was virtually nil.

In which case, the public reaction to the Trayvon Martin case should have pleased me even as it surprised me.

But it seemed too muddled, it had too many eccentricities that made it a weak metaphor. After you got past the fact that Sanford, FL, had a lousy and bigoted police force, what did you really have other than a story with a lot of angles that people who had already made up their minds could pull one way or the other.

So the only thing left was the facts. As the facts came out, it seemed that there was less of a lesson in this story than it had appeared. It didn’t make it less of a story; it was just the grand moral message that had lost ground. After all, as Freud supposedly said, sometimes a cigar is just a smoke.

A journalist is lucky at such times. You’re meant to just handle the facts and let the message and the meaning come on their own. You’re under no obligation to solve the story until the facts are there.

But it’s sure is harder to do when everybody’s shouting the answer at you.

Major Obama donor faces fraud charges

Experts: not Zimmerman screaming on 911 tape

Raw Story - Two forensic voice experts have told The Orlando Sentinel Saturday that neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was not the voice crying for help in the 911 calls after he shot Trayvon Martin. Tom Owen, a forensic consultant for Owen Forensic Services LLC and a court-qualified expert witness, used software called Easy Voice Biometrics to compare Zimmerman’s voice to the 911 calls with cries in the background before the shooting on February 26th.

...Another expert, Ed Primeau of Michigan, used audio enhancement and human analysis to also determined that it was the slain teenager’s voice instead of his shooter.
“I believe that’s Trayvon Martin in the background, without a doubt,” Primeau told The Orlando Sentinel. “That’s a young man screaming.”

CIA's interrogation prison in Poland

How Reagan got our present disaster going

Taking responsibility for death

States face legal issue over buying Israeli bonds

Consortium News A legal fight is underway in Minnesota over the state’s investment in Israeli bonds that are used to support settlements and other Israeli actions in the West Bank deemed illegal under international law. Sylvia Schwarz, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, explains why she’s demanding the state’s divestiture.

Sylvia Schwarz - Boycott From Within is one of three organizations and 24 individuals listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the State of Minnesota for illegally investing in Israel bonds, bonds which are used to fund projects such as the Separation Wall (ruled illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice) and illegal settlement construction and infrastructure (a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Minnesota is one of more than 75 state and municipalities which holds Israel bonds. Most of these bonds were purchased in the last decade, when the Development Corporation of Israel made a major sales push.

Boycott From Within members are all Israeli citizens living in Israel. They have publicly and enthusiastically endorsed the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for BDS against Israel to force the state of Israel to comply with international law.

Police using cellphone tracking as a routine tool

NY Times -= Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

.. Civil liberties advocates say the wider use of cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. While many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in non-emergencies, others claim broad discretion to get the records on their own, according to 5,500 pages of internal records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from 205 police departments nationwide.

The man whose lies helped cause the Iraq war comes clean

Independent, UK - A man whose lies helped to make the case for invading Iraq – starting a nine-year war costing more than 100,000 lives and hundreds of billions of pounds – will come clean in his first British television interview tomorrow.

"Curveball", the Iraqi defector who fabricated claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, smiles as he confirms how he made the whole thing up. It was a confidence trick that changed the course of history, with Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi's lies used to justify the Iraq war.

He tries to defend his actions: "My main purpose was to topple the tyrant in Iraq because the longer this dictator remains in power, the more the Iraqi people will suffer from this regime's oppression."

Colleges withhold transcripts from grads in loan default

“It’s worse than indentured servitude,” says NYU Professor Andrew Ross, who helped organize the Occupy Student Debt movement last fall. “With indentured servitude, you had to pay in order to work, but then at least you got to work. When universities withhold these transcripts, students who have been indentured by loans are being denied even the ability to work or to finish their education so they can repay their indenture.”

NBC adds to Martin case confusion

Eric Wemple, Washington Post - NBC told this blog today that it would investigate its handling of a piece on the “Today” show that ham-handedly abridged the conversation between George Zimmerman and a dispatcher in the moments before the death of Trayvon Martin...

As exposed by Fox News and media watchdog site NewsBusters, the “Today” segment took this approach to a key part of the dispatcher call:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

Here’s how the actual conversation went down:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black

Baltimore police treat 9 year old as adult felon

ACLU - The actions of Baltimore City police in arresting and handcuffing eight and nine year old children at school are appalling, and also in plain violation of state regulations regarding school arrests. Even if it was appropriate to treat the fight between children as a criminal justice matter, there is no excuse for treating eight and nine year olds the same way we treat adult criminal suspects. The fact that the Baltimore City Police Department's chief spokesperson defends the police conduct on the ground that they "handled the detentions as we would any felony suspect," reflects a profound problem with the Department as a whole, and how it treats young children of color. An eight or nine year old child is simply not ‘any felony suspect,’ and the law almost universally recognizes fundamental differences between children and adults. The fact that the Baltimore City Police Department is unable or unwilling to acknowledge that difference is deeply troubling. The fact that the Baltimore Police Department is a repeat offender in this regard, having been made a national disgrace for arresting a seven year old boy in handcuffs in 2007, is even more disturbing.

The Trayvon Martin case by the numbers

Nbr of times George Zimmerman called Sanford police since 2004 to report suspicious persons, often blacks

Times GZ has been involved in cases involving violence

Times in these cases that charges have been dismissed, not filed or greatly reduced

Times Sanford police didn't initially prosecute in recent attacks on blacks (including 2 with deaths)

Nbr of assault cases in which GZ greatly outweighed other party

GZ assault cases in which he claimed to be the victim

Nbr of these cases where GZ claimed injury to his head

Times that higher police official or judge intervened on GZ's behalf

Nbr of times Martin case crime scene officer involved in cases Sanford police then pushed aside

GZ assault cases involving blacks

GZ assault cases involving women

GZ assault cases involving police officers

Nbr of times GZ was fired as a security guard for being too aggressive

Nbr of registered neighborhood watches to which GZ belonged

Nbr of guns watch members in GZ's neighborhood are allowed to carry

Obamadmin wants to make student loan payment easier

Bloomberg - The Obama administration proposed requiring that debt collectors let student-loan borrowers make payments based on what they can afford, rather than on the size of their debt.

The U.S. Education Department, which hires private collectors, said yesterday it would mandate that the companies use a standard form to gather debtors’ income and expenses. If borrowers protest, they would be offered an income-based formula, which can result in payments as low as $50 a month for an unmarried person with $20,000 in income and $20,000 in loans.

The collection companies -- which receive commissions of as much as 20 percent of recoveries -- are facing complaints that they insist on stiff payments from defaulted borrowers even though the Obama administration and Congress have approved more- lenient plans. The education department is also reviewing the commissions it pays collectors.

Medical implants rarely tested for safety

Consumer Reports - Tens of millions of Americans live with medical devices implanted in their bodies¬artificial joints, heart defibrillators, surgical mesh. And it’s a safe bet that most of them assume that someone, somewhere, tested the devices for safety and effectiveness.
But that is rarely the case. For most implants and other high-risk devices brought to market, manufacturers do nothing more than file some paperwork and pay the Food and Drug Administration a user fee of roughly $4,000 to start selling a product that can rack up many millions of dollars in revenue. Often, the only safety “testing” that occurs is in the bodies of unsuspecting patients¬including two of the three people whose stories are told in this report.

Full list of words and phrases NYC ed department bans from standardized tests

Boing Boing - You've likely heard that the New York City Department of Education wants to avoid the user of certain words or phrases on standardized tests if "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people." The list of the words and phrases is below. I suggest reading it aloud -- it sounds like Beat poetry!

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological), Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs, Birthday celebrations (and birthdays), Bodily functions, Cancer (and other diseases), Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes), Celebrities, Children dealing with serious issues, Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia), Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting), Crime, Death and disease, Divorce, Evolution, Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes, Gambling involving money, Halloween, Homelessness, Homes with swimming pools, Hunting, Junk food, In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge, Loss of employment, Nuclear weapons, Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling), Parapsychology, Politics, Pornography, Poverty, Rap Music, Religion, Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan), Rock-and-Roll music, Running away, Sex, Slavery, Terrorism, Television and video games (excessive use), Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters), Vermin (rats and roaches), Violence, War and bloodshed, Weapons (guns, knives, etc.), Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

NRC approves two nuclear plants despite growing Fukushima concerns

Common Dreams - Despite reports this week that the Fukushima nuclear situation may be even worse than previously thought, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given approval for two combined licenses for two nuclear reactors in South Carolina, only the second time in the last three decades that new nuclear plants have been approved in the nation.

The NRC's decision to approve the license passed by a 4-1 vote, with the lone dissent vote coming from NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko due to safety measures raised by the Fukushima disaster. Jaczko wrote in his dissent, "I continue to believe that we should require that all Fukushima-related safety enhancements are implemented before these new reactors begin operating.”

Vote count failure of the week

Palm Beach Post - The supplier of Palm Beach County's voting and tabulating equipment says a software "shortcoming" led to votes being assigned to the wrong candidates and the elections office declaring the wrong winners in two recent Wellington council races.County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, who insisted a computer glitch rather than human error was to blame for the fiasco, claimed vindication after Dominion Voting Systems released its statement.

50 Detroit students suspended for protesting a lack of education

Recovered history: we've had medicinal recreational drugs before

Wikipedia - During the Prohibition era lasting from 1920 to 1933 in the United States, all alcohol sales were banned in the country. But the federal government made an exemption for whisky prescribed by a doctor and sold through licensed pharmacies. During this time, the Walgreens pharmacy chain grew from 20 retail stores to almost 400

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